The Good Nurse Review: Nurse Jessica Chastain Tries To Stop Serial Killer Eddie Redmayne In This Underwhelming True Crime Drama [TIFF]

Amy Loughren is a good nurse — she must be, since that's the title of "The Good Nurse," Tobias Lindholm's disappointingly flat serial killer drama. Based on a true story and featuring a script by "1917" scribe Krysty Wilson-Cairns, "The Good Nurse" follows Amy (Jessica Chastain) as she comes to the horrific realization that one of her co-workers and friends is murdering patients. 

When we first meet Amy, Lindholm and Wilson-Cairns make it clear that she goes above and beyond for her patients. This isn't just some job for her — she really cares, and wants to do everything she can to make the sick people at her hospital feel better. But Amy has medical problems of her own — she's diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, and advised to go on sick leave, because if she exerts herself too much she could die. But it's not that simple — Amy hasn't been at her current hospital long enough to earn herself health insurance (just in case you needed a fresh reminder of what an abomination the American health care system is). Amy worries she will lose her job if her employers find out she's sick. She's a single mother of two, so losing her job isn't ideal. If Amy can hold out for a few more months, she'll finally be able to get insurance — and then undergo a heart transplant. 

In the midst of all this, Amy's hospital hires Charlie (Eddie Redmayne), a soft-spoken, extremely nice nurse who befriends Amy almost immediately. He learns of her illness and agrees to both keep it a secret and help her get through it. Charlie is so damn nice that he seems too good to be true, and of course, he is. Patients have an odd habit of dying when Charlie is around, even patients who appeared to be on the road to recovery. But people die in hospitals all the time, and this isn't the first hospital Charlie has worked for. Surely, if he's killed patients, someone would've noticed and kept him from ever working in the medical field again.



The set-up of "The Good Nurse" is inherently chilling, all the more so because it's based on a true story. Charles Cullen was a nurse who killed his patients — 29 confirmed, but the real number could be as high as 400 — and he didn't operate in a bubble. No, one of the reasons Cullen was able to get away with what he did for so long was that the various hospitals he worked for kept things quiet. Like the Catholic Church handling sex abuse accusations, the hospitals did their own internal investigations and pushed Cullen out the door without ever trying to really stop him from killing again. Why? Money, of course. The hospitals allegedly feared that they would be held financially liable, so it was easier to get rid of Cullen for some other reason — the implication is that the hospitals never really had proof Cullen was killing anyone, but there were plenty of suspicions they kept hush-hush. 

Sounds terrifying, right? Greed directly contributing to mass murder? That's a disturbing story, and yet, "The Good Nurse" is strangely flat. Lindholm shoots everything in a rather sterile manner. Is he trying to invoke the sterile feel of hospitals? Maybe. But no one wants to look at a film that looks like a hospital for over two hours. The only real flourishes Lindholm and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes employ here is to occasionally set up shots with out-of-focus objects partially obscuring parts of the frame, as if to signal the hidden nature of what's going on here.

Indeed, Charlie is so kind and caring that Amy refuses to believe he could be capable of murder. But as more patients start mysteriously dying, Amy begins to grow suspicious. She's not alone — two detectives, played by Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich, are made aware of what's potentially happening and begin investigating. However, Amy's employers tell her — and her fellow co-workers — to never talk to the cops without a representative of the hospital around. And the cops themselves are consistently stonewalled by the hospital's risk assessment manager, played with the perfect amount of self-righteous indignation by Kim Dickens. 

What if a nurse was good?

Chastain, one of the best in the biz, does what she can with a somewhat underused role. Amy simply seems to be there to get us into the story, and her heart problems are all but abandoned as things unfold. Redmayne fares a little better, as his role is the more interesting one. He plays the part subdued, which makes it all the scarier. His soft-spoken voice and long gaze are both comforting and unsettling, and one of the more interesting things about the film is how it never quite gets us inside Charlie's head. We know there's something wrong with him, and we know he's a killer — but we don't know what makes him tick. We don't know why he does what he does. And Redmayne plays the part as if Charlie doesn't know, either. There's something particularly creepy about that — a serial killer who kills for seemingly no real reason. 

All of this sounds like it could make for a disturbing thriller — so why is "The Good Nurse" so lifeless? I kept waiting for the film to find its footing and start drawing us into its horrifying story. But it never does. The subplot involving the cops feels particularly contrived, and the way they recruit Amy into helping them never comes across as believable (or legal enough to hold up in court for that matter). "The Good Nurse" is based on a non-fiction book by Charles Graeber, and one positive thing I can say is that "The Good Nurse" movie inspired me to finally check out that book — because there's a real story here. Too bad they couldn't really figure out how to tell it on screen.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10